Technology suppliers deliver manufacturing expertise for vegan products
3/8/2024 Production Article

Technology suppliers deliver manufacturing expertise for vegan products

The market for food alternatives based on plant-based proteins is growing rapidly. Not only new food pioneers and established food manufacturers are benefiting from this. Their technology suppliers can also secure market shares: with suitable production lines in the field of protein isolation and displacement, for texturisation and extrusion. They support their customers with test and application centres, often from laboratory development to upscaled process plants. This results in investment decisions that no New Food producer will regret. But don't forget: In the end, it has to taste good.

A woman in protective clothing at a Bühler machine In the new Protein Application Centre of the Swiss Bühler Group, Scientific Director Katarina Slettengren supports customers in the development of protein isolation processes.

You couldn't miss it in "Veganuary" 2024: Increasingly vegan meat, fish and dairy alternatives based on plant-based proteins are entering the market. Supermarket chains and discounters are undercutting each other with knockdown prices. Meatless Monday and Veggie Thursday are intended to ensure regularity in the change of diet. And indeed: not only convinced vegans, but also health and environmentally conscious people who are otherwise not averse to animal products are taking up the offer.

Drivers for strong market growth in plant-based proteins

According to the market study "Global Plant-based Protein Market 2024" published by Meticulous Market Research in February 2024, the market for plant-based proteins is expected to reach a volume of USD 26.45 billion by 2031. This corresponds to an average annual growth rate of 8.4 per cent. In addition to ethical motives (animal welfare, climate protection, social justice/world nutrition), the general trend towards protein-rich diets is one of the drivers. Plant-based protein sources range from soya and wheat to peas, rapeseed, maize, and rice through to beans and lupins.

New food start-ups are followed by established food producers

Relatively young companies such as Like Meat are regarded as pioneers for vegan meat alternatives. In view of the high growth rates, more and more established food manufacturers are now also becoming active in this market. In addition to companies such as Rügenwalder Mühle, Alnatura, Iglo, Friesland Campina (Valess), Nestlé (Garden Gourmet) and Kerry Group, which previously focussed on meat, sausage and dairy products, starch producers such as Crespel & Deiters are also among the winners in Europe. Broad-based companies such as Roquettes and Beneo (Südzucker) supply plant-based proteins not only to the food and beverage sector but also to the pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries. The boom is constantly attracting new start-ups – and is finally even convincing "die-hard" suppliers of animal products such as Tönnies to invest in the veggie market.

Machine builders supply technology and expertise for the protein shift

The favourable growth prospects are bringing technology providers onto the scene. They are particularly called upon to contribute their expertise - in addition to suitable process technology. After all, the young, booming market is associated with numerous new product developments - and often in companies with little or no process engineering expertise in plant-based foods. They need sound support in process development. And numerous machine manufacturers provide this.

Hosokawa Alpine's multiprocessing plant The French R&D service provider Improve uses Hosokawa Alpine's multiprocessing plant for tests within the complete processing chain of plant proteins.

Legume flours in the all-rounder for grinding and separation

Many paths lead to the goal. Hosokawa Alpine, for example, works closely with the service provider Improve in Dury near Amiens. Among other things, the French research and development centre uses the multiprocessing plant from the Augsburg-based machine manufacturer, a laboratory-scale production plant. This enables a combination of ultra-fine grinding and air separation to enrich legume flours made from field beans, peas, or lentils with protein. Hosokawa technology is also used for dehulling the raw materials and coarse grinding. Supplemented by a zig-zag classifier, the multi-process plant, consisting of a fluidised bed counterjet mill, a classifier mill, a fine impact mill and a high-precision air classifier, is an all-rounder for the development of protein shifting processes.

In addition, customers can run tests with classifiers, classifier mills and fine impact mills in Hosokawa Alpine's Food Application Centre, which will open at the Augsburg site in 2021.

Andritz CEO Joachim Schönbeck cuts the ribbon, on the left Olaf Müller, on the right Marco Buis Opening of the Food Innovation Xperience Centre at Andritz Gouda B.V. in the Netherlands. Andritz CEO Joachim Schönbeck cuts the ribbon, on the left Olaf Müller (Senior Vice President, Andritz Separation Division) and on the right Marco Buis (Managing Director Andritz Gouda).

Transition from the pilot phase to industrial scale

Andritz Separation provides support for anyone who wants to transfer the development of alternative proteins from the laboratory or pilot phase to industrial scale. The machine manufacturer's Food Innovation Xperience test centre in Waddinxveen, the Netherlands, which will open in 2023, is suitable for testing and validating processes. The resulting technical parameters and the resulting end products for market tests minimise the risk in the alternative food supplier's investment decision. The 850 square metre centre is equipped with Andritz technologies for grinding, extraction, dewatering and drying. Various tests in the field of alternative proteins are possible.

new Megatex cooling nozzle from Coperion The new Megatex cooling nozzle from Coperion is intended to make the production of the meat substitute HMMA significantly more flexible and economical in future.

Fibrous HMMA like animal muscle meat

Developers of plant-based protein products can also benefit from the expertise of the mechanical engineering company Coperion. The technology supplier specialises in TVP (textured vegetable proteins) and HMMA (High Moisture Meat Analogues). In its test centres, it offers support in the processing of a wide variety of proteins. The ZSK food extruders with ZGF pelletiser or cooling die as well as feeders and material transport equipment are used. A hybrid version of the ZSK Food Extruder is available for research institutes and start-ups. It enables TVP and HMMA to be produced on the same system. In February 2024, the company also announced a new cooling nozzle, the Megatx S7. It gives HMMA a particularly dense, fibrous structure like animal muscle meat after it leaves the extruder. The modular cooling die allows recipe and configuration changes in just a few simple steps.

GEA Technology Centre in Hildesheim At the GEA Technology Centre in Hildesheim, processes to produce new foods can be evaluated and production tested with the help of cell cultures and microbial fermentation.

Cell-based protein recovery: from feasibility study to production plant

GEA also supports its customers with process technology and expertise in building a veggie portfolio - and has a particularly broad approach. From development to scale-up to production, manufacturers benefit from the possibilities offered by the GEA test centres. In June 2023, a technology centre to produce alternative proteins was inaugurated in Hildesheim, Lower Saxony (Germany). In a pilot line for cell cultivation and fermentation, laboratory developments are being driven forward through to commercial production. It complements the centres of excellence in the New Food division, which focus on bioreactors (Hildesheim and Skanderborg, Denmark) and cell separation (Oelde, Germany), among other things.

In February 2024, GEA also began the construction of a technology centre for alternative proteins in the US state of Wisconsin. Demand for New Food is also growing in the USA. However, industrial production has some catching up to do. The opening of the US food tech hub with a complete process line in a 10,000 square metre building is planned for 2025. Systems to produce plant-based, microbial, and cell-based foods are to be piloted there.

Protein specialists integrated into established food innovation hub

The support that food manufacturers in need of protein application expertise can now expect from the Swiss company Bühler is also far-reaching. In January 2024, it opened a Protein Application Centre in Uzwil, around 40 km east of Zurich, together with partner Endeco. Covering an area of 300 square metres, the centre includes options for dry and wet processing of pulses or cereals into proteins, fibres and finished consumer products such as milk or meat substitutes. Customers can validate their ideas in the field of protein processing to produce plant-based foods here. Among other things, a small, highly flexible processing line with a capacity of one kilogramme per hour (kg/h) and an industrial-scale production line with a feed capacity of 200 kg/h are available.

Bühler and the German plant manufacturer Endeco, which specialises in starch and protein plants, formed a strategic partnership in mid-2022. The protein isolation process developed by Endeco has now been integrated into Bühler's application centres. Flottweg is another partner contributing classic protein isolation using an isoelectric precipitation process in decanter centrifuges. With membrane fractionation using ultrafiltration technology from the Swiss company MMS, an alternative process is available in Uzwil.

The small plant includes a dairy application line. Vegan drinks, yoghurts and cheese can be developed here. The Protein Application Center also works together with the other application centres of Bühler's Food Innovation Hub in Uzwil, such as the Grain Innovation Center (GIC) and the Extrusion Application Center.

Conclusion: Tasty new food products, efficiently produced

Technology providers play a key role in the relatively new technical field of protein isolation and transfer for new food products. With application and test centres, they offer start-ups, young companies, and established food producers the opportunity to try out new product ideas. Here, the technology for producing food based on plant proteins can be scaled up to an industrial scale. In turn, machine manufacturers can convince their customers of the latest technical innovations. Together, they can succeed in increasing the efficiency of new food production and at the same time create alternatives to animal products that satisfy discerning consumers in terms of flavour.


Ulla Reutner

Dr. Ulla Reutner

Chemist and freelance specialised journalist